After a second straight lackluster season, there’s no shortage of positions that the Pittsburgh Steelers could benefit from improving. The only question is which position will take precedence in the 2014 NFL Draft.
However, before getting into what position the Steelers should target, I’d first like to mention a few positions that I think they could afford to hold off on during Day 1.
Since 2010, the Steelers have spent four first- and second-day picks on the offensive line. First-rounders Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro have struggled with injuries but have proven worthy of their draft position when healthy.
In the second round of the 2011 and ’12 drafts, the Steelers chose two offensive tackles in Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams. This season, Gilbert was a 16-game starter for the first time in his career. Adams, on the other hand, was supplanted by a seventh-round pick from his draft class, Kelvin Beachum.
With Beachum and Gilbert bookending the offensive line, Ben Roethlisberger was only sacked seven times in the team’s final seven games. Coupled with that, the team ran the ball much better in the latter half of the season.
The Steelers have spent a number of high-round draft picks on their O-Line recently, and if the end of 2013 is any indication, it could finally be paying off.
With Ryan Clark’s time as a Steeler all but over and the soon-to-be 33-year-old Troy Polamalu’s career dwindling down, many feel the safety position should be among the Steelers’ top priorities.
Nonetheless, with the talent still on the roster at safety, I feel the Steelers can prolong a safety pick until at least Day 2.
Polamalu, though not quite the force he was during his 2010 Defensive Player of the Year campaign, proved to be more than serviceable in 2013.
He recorded multiple sacks for the first time since 2005 and set a career-high with five forced fumbles on the way to his eighth Pro Bowl selection.
And then there’s Will Allen.
Allen, a Steeler from 2010-12, was re-signed by the team at midseason to provide depth. He also provided a game-clinching interception against the Detroit Lions.
Allen, a pending free agent, should be re-signed for cheap and serve as a capable backup and spot-starter. And provided Shamarko Thomas emerges, then that’s all Allen will be.
The Steelers were willing to part with this year’s third-round draft pick in order to acquire Thomas as the heir apparent to Clark. I have to imagine that this season he’ll get a chance to meet those expectations.
Now, there’s obviously times when talent trumps positional need. If Sammy Watkins (no relation) or Mike Evans is available when the Steelers are on the clock, then my stance on this could certainly change.
That being said, it appears that by closing the year on a three-game win streak, the Steelers might’ve played their way out of acquiring either of these young studs.
With Emmanuel Sanders’ time in Pittsburgh likely up, the Steelers have a hole to fill across from Antonio Brown. After all, 10 touchdowns or not, Jerricho Cotchery is best suited to the team’s third receiver role.
However, two factors make the wide receiver position one the Steelers can afford to wait on.
For one, this year’s draft is very deep at the receiver spot. Even if the Steelers choose to bypass a receiver in the first round, they should still be afforded a bevy of options in later rounds.
At least one of Jalen Strong, Allen Robinson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jordan Matthews should be available when the Steelers are on the clock in Round 2.
Along with that, it’s still too early to close the door on Markus Wheaton. Like Sanders and Mike Wallace before him, Wheaton was a third-round pick at the wide receiver position.
Wheaton underwhelmed in his rookie season, catching all of six balls. In fairness, he was behind five players who hauled in at least 40 receptions.
Wheaton was a stud at Oregon State during his senior year with over 1,300 total yards and 13 scores. He also had an impressive 2013 preseason with 150 yards from scrimmage and a 34-yard touchdown grab against the Chiefs.
With all that taken into consideration, the Steelers will likely be hesitant to spend a first-rounder on a receiver.